Category Archives: Non-Jive-Ass

Comrades in Arms

Some climbing buddies pointed out to me today that Climbing Magazine posted a Ridiculous Anchors Edition of their Unbelayvable series (which recounts harrowing tales of reader-submitted climbing stupidity). And this installment does indeed deliver some high quality climbing anchor Jive-Assery, the most noteworthy being this one:

Jive-Ass Quick Draw chain anchor, from John Gregory's blog "Dumb Anchors"

Jive-Ass Quick Draw chain anchor, from John Gregory’s blog “Dumb Anchors”

The Climbing magazine piece quotes a guy named John Gregory in its photo caption (it would have been decent of them to at least post a link to his fine blog) [UPDATE: they did add a link to John’s site in the Climbing magazine piece–nice work!], so I looked him up to discover that John is almost like a long lost brother, a comrade in arms as it were. John manages an awesome blog–not unlike Jive-Ass Anchors–called Dumb Anchors. Most of his examples appear to be from Carderock, Maryland, USA. And indeed the photo above is from his blog. In fact, John has also posted a photo of this “dumb anchor” from another angle, which illustrates the full cluster-fuckery of this horrible anchor even more explicitly. There are some real gems in John’s blog. You should check it out.

At any rate, seeing this sort of inspired me to offer a shout out to everyone out there fighting the good fight by documenting and dissecting all of the Jive-Ass anchors we encounter out there in the world. And for those of you who see and photograph them, I’d also like to encourage you to not only witness but also to intervene. If you see something particularly dangerous and you can fix it, or educate the builder of said Jive-Ass anchor (with a bit of tact and diplomacy of course), please do so. Here are a few of the more prominant lousy anchor resources online:

  1. As I just discovered, there is the Dumb Anchors blog from John Gregory: http://dumbanchors.blogspot.com/
  2. The Mountain Project forums has a Bad Anchors section with some pretty good (bad) stuff too: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/bad-anchors/108031892
  3. The forums on SuperTopo has a rather awesome section called Good Anchors, Bad Anchorshttp://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/569713/Good-Anchors-Bad-Anchors
  4. And finally, while not devoted exclusively to horrifying climbing anchors, the /r/climbing sub-Reddit on Reddit often has instances of pure Jive-Ass gold. People send me stuff form here all the time: http://www.reddit.com/r/climbing

Missing anything? Let me know!

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Bollards are not Jive-Ass

Constructing a bollard snow anchor

Wim Aarts constructing a bollard snow anchor

I was teaching an intermediate level snow climbing class this weekend and was reminded of how suspiciously beginning alpine climbers view bollards the first time they see them. A rappel anchor made of a rope wrapped around a bit of snow?  I suppose we shouldn’t blame them, because at first glance they do look a little jive-ass. And to be fair, in making test bollards constructed in sloppy snow I’ve seen the rope cut through like a hot knife through butter. But in hard snow, where you have to chop the trough with the adze of you ice ax, they’re extremely strong. And if you back up the rope with a few pickets or ice axes (one of each in the photo above), have the heavier climbers rappel first, and then have the lightest person pull the back up gear and go last, it’s also quite safe.

At any rate, we built a few bollards this weekend to prove the point. The students weren’t convinced until one of the instructors, Andrew Rios, rappelled first, proving that one could do so and live to tell about it.

Andrew raps off of the bollard

Andrew raps off of the bollard

Location: White River Glacier, Mt. Hood, Oregon, USA

Obvious for all but the novice alpine climber? I’m not so convinced. Case in point: last summer I climbed the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak with my buddy Matt. This is primarily an alpine rock route, but the approach to the rock involves climbing up a couloir of fairly steep snow and ice. As the summer progresses and the snow melts, it pulls away from the rock leaving an intimidating moat on all sides of an ever steeper peninsula of snow.  It’s steep enough that most people prefer to rappel back down it rather than risk down climbing the late day mushy snow. There are bolts on the rock for late season when all of the snow is melted out. However, when we were there in July, when the couloir is still filled with snow, the bolts were an unreachable 2 meters from the edge of the snow ramp. A number of climbers–obviously more comfortable on rock than on high angle snow–made the dangerous and difficult decision to climb into the moat, risking a deadly slide under the snow and ice, to set up a rappel from those bolts.

A much faster, easier, and safer method would have been to carve a bollard into the edge of the snow, which is exactly what Matt and I did.

Steve making a snow bollard rappel anchor.

Steve making a snow bollard rappel anchor (Photo by Matt Sundling).

Location: Forbidden Peak, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA

Nice dog! Is That a Bowline?

Dog securely anchored to a tree with a bowline knot.

Dog securely anchored to a tree with a bowline knot.

I was walking in downtown Portland, Oregon a while back and I came across a dog tied to a tree in front of a restaurant. I noticed that the knot used to tie the rope around the tree was none other than the infamous bowline knot, suggesting that dog’s owner was either a sailor or a climber. I didn’t get to talk to the owner, so I guess we’ll never know.

I have to admit that the bowline surprised and delighted me–enough that I was prompted to take this very poor photo. I think it’s in part a matter of context. As a climber I encounter this knot all the time in alpine climbing anchors. However, I don’t expect to run across a bowline in the city. I mean urban dog owners typically don’t know their knots. I would have expected a square knot at best, or a ‘granny knot’ at worst.

The dog just stood there staring attentively, like he was waiting for something to happen.

“What ya looking at boy?” I asked him. And I half expected him to respond.

“Well this rabbit came out of the hole. He ran around the tree, and then he went back down the hole. If he comes back out of that hole he’s mine.”

Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

The Opposite of Jive-Ass

Bomber natural pro climbing anchor

Bomber natural pro climbing anchor.

Lest you get the impression that all ice climbing anchors at the Ouray Ice Park in Colorado are jive-ass (they aren’t), here is a bomber climbing anchor. It’s quite aesthetically pleasing, actually–beautiful even–with its symmetrical bowlines with overhand back up knots. Personally I prefer to have the overhand back up knot right up against the bowline knot to keep everything from slipping, but this set up is gorgeous nonetheless. EARNEST and SERENE to a fault, it’s made of a single piece of what looks to be 7 mm cord. The power point was a “super 8”. I talked to the builder and he was very proud of his anchor. The pride he takes in his work shows.

Why are so many of my jive-ass anchor photos from the Ouray Ice Park? Or perhaps a better question is: how am I able to produce so many jive-ass anchor photos from the Ouray Ice Park? I think it’s simply a matter of sheer numbers and access. On a typical day there are dozens and dozens of top rope ice climbing anchors built in the park–many of them right next to one another. There are few places–rock climbing crags included–where a person can witness so many climbing anchor set ups in one place in one day. And given the sheer number, odds are that you’re going to encounter at least one or two anchors built by someone with inadequate (or no) climbing anchor construction training. All of that said, most of the climbing anchors one encounters there are perfectly bomber.

Location: Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado, USA

Are You Proud of Your Anchor?

Martial Dumas is super proud of his anchor.

Martial Dumas is super proud of his anchor.

Petzl produced a nice mixed climbing video several years ago, filmed in characteristically (so I am told) terrible conditions on Ben Nevis. In it, Petzel athlete Martial Dumas pridefully “owns” his anchor is a way that’s both humorous, but also kind of awesome. The dialogue is as follows (if you’re a Francophone you don’t need the subtitles):

“Martial Dumas”
“Yes?”
“Are you proud of your anchor?”
“Super proud.”

What’s great about Martial’s proud pronouncement is that the anchor building conditions are far from ideal. He’s got two hexes in an icy crack (always a somewhat sketchy proposition), statically equalized with a spectra sling. In short, he makes due with what he’s got to work with.

This conversation happens in the video at 6:40. Check it out here:

I’d like to suggest that when whenever you build an anchor you should imagine that upon completion an interviewer will show up with a camera and ask you if you are proud of your anchor. If you build your anchor with a view to being able to exclaim with pride and confidence “super proud!”, I suspect you’ll end up constructing a pretty good anchor.

Location: Ben Nevis, Scotland